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Schwarz Lab Members presented current research at the 2019 Delaware Neuroscience Symposium. L to R: Mary Beth Bielicki, Stella Zhao, Morgan Sherer, Elizabeth McAuley, Lexi Turano, Jaclyn Schwarz, Nicole Haas, Rita Patel
Our lab examines how immune activation influences the brain and behavior throughout the lifespan.
Many neuropsychiatric disorders have been linked to early-life immune activation or immune dysregulation, yet it is not known how activation of the immune system early in life can program brain and behavior. There is constant communication between the brain and the immune system that can influence the brain and behavior.
During certain times in life, we hypothesize that immune activation can change the trajectory of the immune cells in the periphery and in the brain to influence behavior long-term.
Schwarz, Ph.D. – Principal Investigator
Haas, M.S. – Laboratory Manager
Janace Gifford, Ph.D. - Postdoctoral Researcher
Mary Beth Bielicki – Graduate Research Assistant
Elise Lemanski – Graduate Research Assistant
Elizabeth McAuley –
Graduate Research Assistant, 4+1 Neuroscience Master’s Program
Research Assistants – Megan Muench, Nicola Habash, Jenna Pluchino, Daria Willis
Morgan Sherer, Ph.D. (postdoctoral researcher at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health), Alexandra Turano, Ph.D. (postdoctoral researcher at Utah State University), Rita Patel, M.S., Brittany F. Osborne, Ph.D. (postdoctoral researcher at CHOP/UPenn), Julie Gomez, M.S. (medical student at Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Jefferson), Sarah Beamish (Graduate Researcher at University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee), Jennifer Lawrence (Graduate Researcher at Washington University in St. Louis), Caitlin Posillico (Graduate Researcher at University of Michigan), Laurne Terasaki (medical student at Virginia Commonwealth University Medical School), and Jasmine Caulfield (Graduate Researcher at Penn State University).
If you are interested in the brain, development, and behavior, consider joining our lab and working on one of the projects listed below.
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Flow cytometric analysis of immune molecules expressed on both male and female mciroglia from the developing brain.
Funding: NIH R01MH106553
Dysregulation of the immune system during childhood increases the risk for mental health disorders such as autism spectrum disorders, schizophrenia and pervasive developmental disorders. Notably, these disorders exhibit a strong sex bias, with males being more vulnerable to these developmental disorders than females. Microglia are the primary immune cells of the brain that respond to immune dysregulation. Microglia-neuron communication is necessary for the proper formation of neural circuits that support the emergence and long-term maintenance of cognitive function. We have found that immune activation during juvenile brain development, produces deficits in the emergence of hippocampal-dependent learning days later. Our data suggest that sex-specific dysregulation in microglia-neuron communication may disrupt the development of neural circuits in the hippocampus following immune activation or dysregulation. These changes may be a key mechanism underlying sex differences in vulnerability to developmental and neuropsychiatric disorders caused by early-life immune activation.
Microglia in the adult female brain.
Funding: NIH R21MH122862
depression affects around 15% of mothers, and suicide associated with
postpartum depression is one of the leading causes of maternal death in first
world countries. Key risk factors for postpartum depression include low social
support, low socioeconomic status, unemployment, and negative life events
during pregnancy. All of these risk factors have a common theme: psychological,
social, or physical resource scarcity, suggesting that the LBN paradigm could
provide a novel and naturalistic model for examining its effects on the risk of
postpartum depression using rodents. Pre-clinical research on post-partum
depression (PPD) has until now focused largely on the contributions of sex
hormones and psychosocial stress, with very little focus on the impact of
inflammation despite the growing body of evidence that inflammation may
contribute to depression. The current project aims to explore whether using
chronic limited bedding and nesting as a stress during and following pregnancy
provides more robust, chronic changes in anhedonic behavior, and whether these
are associated with changes in inflammatory state caused by either the
peripartum period itself, or in combination with stress.
Vero cells infected with Zika Virus (ZIKV) at various concentrations.
Funding: NIH R21HD096309
Collaboration with Dr. Mark Parcells (Department
of Animal and Food Sciences)
(ZIKV), a mosquito-borne flavivirus, has been associated with microcephaly and
other neurological disorders in infants born to infected mothers. Despite being
declared an international emergency by the World Health Organization,
comparatively very little is known about the pathogenesis, mechanisms, or
behavioral consequences of maternal ZIKV infection in the offspring. Our lab is
interested in developing a working animal model to answer some of these
questions. Here, we use a rat model of prenatal ZIKV infection to measure the
level of infectivity, as well as the rate of viral clearance in both the mother
and her pups. We examine various aspects of brain development in pups,
including cortical thickness, microglia morphology, apoptosis, and
neurogenesis. Further, we use this model to investigate the impact of prenatal
ZIKV infection on hippocampal and non-hippocampal dependent learning as well as
motor learning in the juvenile and adult offspring. Given that pregnancy is
associated with significant immunomodulation, we are also interested in the
role that pregnancy has on the impact of ZIKV infection, therefore we compare
viral infectivity between both pregnant and non-pregnant female rats.
Collaboration with Dr. Catherine L. Grimes (Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry)
Unlike most of the body's organs, the brain exists behind a blood-brain barrier designed to minimize the passage of cells and pathogens into delicate neural tissue. Yet, our body is colonized with a vast array of commensal bacteria known as the microbiome, and a plethora of growing data highlight an important relationship between the composition of the microbiome and various brain disorders including Alzheimer's disease, depression and autism. The molecular mechanisms of this intriguing relationship are relatively unknown. Our proposed experiments will determine whether the small cell wall metabolites produced by these bacteria gain access to the brain, and if they do, what do they do there? To date, it's been assumed that communication between the microbiome and the brain is exclusively indirect, occurring via communication with the endocrine, immune and autonomic nervous systems. We hypothesize, rather, that small carbohydrate fragments derived from the cell wall of the microbiota can translocate to the brain thereby directly and continuously influencing brain function and health.
Undergraduate students in Neuroscience, Psychology and
If you are interested in joining the lab, send an updated
resume, unofficial transcript and the following application: Schwarz Lab Undergraduate Interview form.docx to Dr. Schwarz at firstname.lastname@example.org.